Intersections Discussion Explores the Vikings Challenges and Opportunities in Brand Marketing

Did you know that during the NFL season the average football fan spends 12 hours a week interacting with NFL brands? That goes beyond just watching a game on Sunday, said Minnesota Vikings CMO Steve LaCroix at the Intersections in Brand Marketing event at the Opus College of Business last night. LaCroix was joined by associate professor of marketing John Sailors, Ph.D., for a wide ranging discussion of the marketing challenges and opportunities of the Minnesota Vikings.

A crowd of more than 100 students, faculty and guests attended the discussion and contributed questions to the discussion.

From a high level, LaCroix discussed how he must develop a marketing plan “without knowing if you're going to win or lose in the season,” though he noted, “Winning really helps.” In his role, every day is different. In his 12th season with the Vikings, LaCroix serves as the team’s vice president of sales and marketing and CMO. LaCroix oversees all aspects of Vikings- generated revenues, including corporate sales, sponsorships, media sales, ticket sales, suite sales and hospitality. He also leads the team’s radio and television programming, website, digital and social media initiatives, merchandise and e-commerce operations, community and special events, marketing partnerships, advertising, branding, promotions, fan relations and game day activities.

Pro sports is all about a shared experience with a crowd of fellow fans, said LaCroix. Understanding the segments of fans is a challenge because with aftermarket ticket sales, “we don't always know who's sitting in the seat in the stadium,” he said.  The stadium situation has been a disadvantage with the shared experience, too.

Plans for the new Vikings stadium are underway to help address some game-day issues, though “the loudness of the Metrodome” was one advantage the Vikings would like to duplicate. The new building will be all about the fan experience he said, because it must compete with the at-home fan experience. That means it will probably center on mobile devices and making it easy for fans to connect and share quickly.

The discussion touched on an interesting aspect of pro sports marketing: the multiple layers of partnerships and branding opportunities from the league level, to the team, to individual players. Companies like Gatorade make branding deals at the league level, with revenues passed down, noted LaCroix, while the Vikings' marketing area, per the NFL, is limited essentially to the state of Minnesota. Every player controls their own image and rights; and the team tries to get them collaborate.

Pro sports aren't recession-proof as much of their revenue comes from discretionary income and the team’s “competitive set” (what they are competing with for people's attention) ranges from other pro sports teams and other entertainment options to the comfort of home versus going to a game in the stadium.

The non-game-day time that fans interact with their favorite teams is a major opportunity for teams and their partners. Many fans spend time with fantasy football leagues, checking player and team statistics and reading game recaps. In a sign of the importance of social media to the team and its brand, the Vikings this year hired a full-time social media manager.

The Vikings have a content advantage when it comes to social and new media LaCroix said. He mentioned the Vikings Entertainment Network, which he helped to launch in 2009, and FanVision as ways the team is working to get more content to fans. The Vikings social media staff must balance its ability to get and share “inside” information, with their role as the official voice of the team. His team must “maintain trust in the locker room. The challenge is that we can't cross over into rumors and innuendo,” LaCriox said.

Speaking of rumors, the final question of the night was, “who's your favorite player?” The audience waited for LaCroix’s answer, “my 14-year-old son.” Talent scouts better keep an eye out.

You can read the Twitter conversation of the event at Storify.

The Intersections series explores the impact that lessons learned in the trenches have on business education, as well as the corresponding impact of research on day-to-day operations. The Intersections series pairs a leading practitioner with a leading member of the Opus College of Business faculty in an open dialogue sure to inform, enlighten...and even entertain.